Tips for Surviving Your First Nursing Night Shift
While most people sleep, teams of healthcare providers attend to patients at hospitals and nursing care facilities. Nurses who work the night shift perform the same duties as healthcare providers on the day shift, but they must adjust to a sleep schedule that defies our natural circadian rhythms.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6% of the workforce hold evening positions, and another 4% work nights.
As you will learn from two seasoned nurses who offer advice in this guide, the night shift presents challenges and advantages. We provide information on coping with the added pressures of working nights and why many prefer the quieter nighttime atmosphere.
What to Expect From the Night Shift
Working the night shift offers a slower pace than daytime work. Many hospital departments close at night, leading to fewer staff members and visitors roaming the halls. Less management on staff gives nurses more autonomy and allows nurses to foster close friendships. These tight bonds give nurses comfort and help during tough times. Working during the night can also lead to higher pay.
Many departments and industries need night shift nurses, such as intensive care units and retirement homes. Night shift nurses work 8-12-hours shifts, from about 11 p.m.-7 a.m. or 8 p.m.-7 a.m. At some hospitals, nurses rotate from day to night shifts. Work schedules depend on the industry and setting. Not every nurse works the night shift, but senior staff members often receive priority for day shifts.
Sandra Crawley, registered nurse (RN), and Shantay Carter, RN, offer the following tips for surviving the night shift:
Ask for Help
Night shift nurses form a cohesive unit. Crawley explains that the slower atmosphere and close-knit environment means "tight bonds are formed, and lasting friendships blossom." Nurses can lean on each other easier during the night shift. Carter echoes that sentiment, explaining that nurses should not be afraid to reach out for help because "everything you do or don't do will affect your patient."
Make Sleep a Priority
Going to sleep in the daytime requires each nurse to make adjustments to their mind, body, and bedroom. Our natural sleep-wake cycle keeps us awake during the daylight. Night shift nurses should use every available sleep aid to help them get the rest they need. Crawley recommends investing in blackout curtains, sleep masks, and white noise machines to block out distractions. High-quality bedding and pillows can also provide night shift nurses with a comfortable sleep environment.
Learn to Say No
Covering the night shift means nurses may have to turn down invitations for social gatherings. That does not mean night shift nurses have to say goodbye to their social lives. Crawley advises that nurses simply make sleep a priority. "Make it a habit to turn off your phone or set up an automated message that says you're resting after working."
Make Time to Eat
Nurses work hectic schedules and often cannot make time to sit down and enjoy their lunch or dinner breaks. The high-stress atmosphere often means they do not take meal breaks. With stores and restaurants closed, night shift nurses especially need to remember to make time to eat. Crawley recommends "packing a healthy lunch and snacks to get you through your shift." She says oranges and other citrus fruits can keep night shift nurses alert.
Don't Be Afraid to Laugh
A good sense of humor goes a long way, especially during a stressful night shift. "When your body and mind are trying to stay awake, and even the smallest things become hysterical, don't be afraid to laugh," explains Crawley.
Getting adequate rest ensures night shift nurses can get through their shifts. Planning in other aspects can also make it easier for night shift nurses to perform their duties. "Try and prepare everything ahead of time. Prepare your uniforms, work bag, and food ahead of time," Carter recommends. Preparedness allows nurses to get to work on time and lowers their stress levels, promoting good mental health.
Prioritize Your Patients
Many things demand a nurse's attention on the night shift. Nurses manage heavy workloads and need to prioritize their time, especially during busier moments on a nursing shift. Carter explains that night shift nurses need to practice time management to ensure safe patient care. They can draw on their experience in nursing school and prioritize patients with immediate needs over those who can be safely delayed.
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Meet Our Contributors
Shantay Carter attended Binghamton University, where she received a bachelor of science degree in nursing.
Sandra Crawley is an RN and medical consultant for MomLovesBest.
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